There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win
Between 2010 and 2013, I listened to the band Standard Fare constantly. I cannot emphasize enough how much I played their two albums. Over and over again. I tracked down all of their singles and played those to death as well. There was something about the trio’s concise bright pop songs that captured my sweet tooth and I never tired of their music. It sounded great loud and with Emma Kupa’s – let’s just say unique vocals – I sang along at the top of my lungs. Well, unfortunately, they only lasted those few years. In my disappointment, I half-heartedly tried to follow the members’ post break-up (which turned out to be Kupa only), but she adopted a more rootsy sound that didn’t appeal much to me. I only picked up a few singles of hers along the way. Somehow, I missed the Mammoth Penguins project until they leaked the silly song “I Wanna,” that gleefully falls head over heels into a crush, early this year. I’m so thankful, because Emma is back in the indie pop rock trio format, writing fantastic melodies that are once again forcing me to listen – and listen enthusiastically – a lot!
There’s an elegance about the straightforward simplicity of this third Mammoth Penguins album that is incredibly appealing. Lyrically, Kupa mostly covers the aftermath of a break-up and the regrets she has that may have led to its demise. Yet, still there is an inherent acceptance that these things sometimes don’t work out, despite all of our best intentions and when both parties are good people. Musically, there’s a nice variety, but in a stripped down no frills sort of way. The rhythm section of Mark Boxall (bass) and Tom Barden (drums) are so unflappable and tight, the entire album would sound good with just them. Emma played bass in Standard Fare, but here she proves to be an excellent guitarist as well, but it’s her vocals that are her trademark. They are unschooled to say the least. I can completely understand if someone listened and found her voice off-putting, but personally, her vocals are the major highlight for me. She strains for notes that she can’t reach and its fun as hell to sing along, because I can’t reach them either.
The opening and closing songs here are my favorites. “Closure” starts things off at the end – a wistful look back at what was likely a pretty happy relationship, but one that is now over. Inside this propulsive song, there are a load of contradictions therein. The song gives every indication of being a love song, while also acknowledging the relief that there’s now closure. At the end, “We Just Carry On” finds us back where we started, but now everything is more emotional. She sees her old partner carrying on, but her strength in “Closure” has evaporated (“I feel the thrill of your eyes on mine / and I want to die”). In between, we are presented at glimpses of where things may have gone awry. The classic rocking “Dick Move,” lists all the things she should’ve done to keep things together. She treads on regret some more in “There is so Much More” – “I’ve always hesitated / I tend to look for the negative / never singing your praises.” The tumultuous “Put it All on You” is a powerhouse of a song, as we gain more insight on how things may not have ended so amicably: “You said I was everything / and then it all stopped / like I was your hallway light / that you just switched off.” The relationship isn’t the only thing that has ended here as we find out in “Quit My Job,” which should be my anthem (“quit my job and it feels good / now I feel free”), but it’s a little too melancholic sounding to sound like the celebration that I feel it should be. Perhaps for her, this is more about housecleaning and starting anew.
At any rate, I’m very excited to have this album to enjoy and I highly recommend it. However, if you’re unfamiliar with Standard Fare, please try to track them down as well. Meanwhile, I will be tracking down the Penguins' prior releases.
Mammoth Penguins "Closure"